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Unrealistic dialogue: speech in drama versus speech in real life Dan McIntyre.

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1 Unrealistic dialogue: speech in drama versus speech in real life Dan McIntyre

2 How like naturally-occurring speech is dramatic dialogue? The linguistic units of analysis appropriate to dialogue as interactional speech are utterances. The sentence is an abstract entity in linguistics, defined in relation to particular grammars, and not in absolute terms. […] Although further complexities can be introduced, the simple distinction made above will serve for our purposes although it must be noted that there is not always a one-to-one relation between them when sentences are used in context as utterances. Utterances may be liable to false starts, slips of the tongue, be elliptical, incomplete, etc. so that it could be unclear as to which sentence analogue is being used. (Herman 1995: 13)

3 C-Units Biber et al. (1999): the sentence is not an appropriate unit for describing speech. C-unit Covers both clausal and non-clausal units Non-clausal c-units Units of around five to six words. Non-clausal units can be analysed grammatically but cannot be connected to anything else to form a longer syntactic unit.

4 C-Units Well, | you know | what I did, | I looked in the trunk | I was going to Vicky’s (Leech 2000: 699) KateThe word friend…when you look back…all that time. (Pinter, Old Times, 1971: 9)

5 Normal non-fluency in drama Reflecting naturalistic speech patterns faithfully ‘would occlude the meaning of particular disfluent utterances as signs of hesitancy, embarrassment, uncertainty, disbelief, and so forth’ (Richardson 2010: 78) In drama, we assume all linguistic choices to be meaningful (see Bennison’s [1998] analysis of Tom Stoppard’s Professional Foul and implicatures generated by Anderson’s frequent performance errors) Dramatic dialogue is hardly ever realistic but it is often credible; i.e. believable as a replica of non-fictional speech

6 Downton Abbey

7 Anachronisms in TV dialogue Ben Schmidt (2012) compares every 2-gram in Downton Abbey scripts with Google N-gram Database, highlighting phrases that do not appear between 1912 and 1921. ‘There are some areas where writers persistently drop the ball. Through much of season 2, Downton Abbey is a hospital or convalescent home, and medical vocabulary presents a particularly problem. Branson escapes the draft because of a “mitral valve prolapse” (first use, c. 1965) causing a “pansystolic murmur” (c. 1953); both terms suggest St. Elsewhere more than the Great War. The doctor’s helpers aren't trained in “specialist care”; hardly their fault, since the phrase was never used before 1925. The household is relieved that Carson the butler did not suffer a “heart attack”; but that phrase was about 50x rarer in 1917’ (Schmidt 2012)


9 [Context: Violet is Lady Edith’s grandmother and suspects that Edith is fond of Sir Anthony Strallan, despite a significant age difference between the two. Cora is Edith’s mother.] VioletSir Anthony Strallan was at Lady Wren’s party. He asked after you. (Edith smiles and exits.) CoraIs she really serious about him? (Downton Abbey, Episode 7, Series 1) OED serious in reference to romantic feelings in use from 1841 onwards serious about first attested in British English in 1961 Corpus of Historical American English first usage with this sense in 1935

10 [Context: Lady Edith is arranging a day out with Matthew Crawley.] Lady EdithThen Saturday it is. I'll get Lynch to sort out the governess cart and I'll pick you up at about eleven. (Downton Abbey, Episode 3, Series 1) OED pick up not attested in British English in time period pick up first attested in US English 1872 (though not with inserted pronoun between verb and particle)

11 [Context: Thomas, a servant, is carrying two jugs of hot water.] ThomasCan’t keep William waiting. Gangway. (Downton Abbey, Episode 3, Series 1) OED gangway not attested in British English until 1918 gangway first attested in US English in 1894

12 Explanations? One member of the family is from America Dialogue is intended as a reflection of spoken rather than written language ‘Anachronisms’ are anachronistic in written language Authenticity does not necessarily result in credibility


14 Milch’s attempt to capture a sense of historical distance with the speech patterns of Deadwood succeeds marvelously, but not because the dialogue achieves true realism or gritty accuracy. Deadwood’s characters don’t talk quite like us, but neither do they talk like Dakota scalawags in 1876 probably talked. Instead, the show’s fidelity to the idea that the past is a foreign country results in dialogue that is just slightly stilted and formal, even as Deadwood’s characters say the earthiest and vilest things. The combination yields the most deliciously literary television dialogue I’ve ever heard. (Feeney 2004)

15 1. Al8 ounces of gold at $20 an ounce is a 160, plus $10 for a half-ounce is a 170 total. 2. EllsworthInform your dealers and whores of my credit, and pour me a goddamned drink. 3. AlHonor and a pleasure my good man. 170 credit, Dan, for Ellsworth. 4. DanYes, sir, 170 for Ellsworth. I’ll let everybody know. Lot four, some hardware guys. 5. EllsworthFirst one today with this hand. And pour me another, my good man. 6. AlHere comes another. Lot four a stayer? 7. DanWagon loaded with goods. 8. EllsworthNow, with that Limey damn accent of yours, are these rumors true that you’re descended from the British nobility? 9. AlI’m descended from all them cocksuckers. 10. EllsworthWell here’s to you, your majesty. I’ll tell you what. I may’ve fucked my life up flatter than hammered shit, but I stand here before you today beholden to no human cocksucker. And workin’ a payin’ fuckin’ gold claim. And not the U.S. government sayin’ I’m tresspassin’ or the savage fuckin’ red man himself or any of these limber dick cocksuckers passin’ themselves off as prospectors had better try and stop me. 11. AlThey better not try it in here. 12. EllsworthGoddamn it, Swearengen, I don’t trust you as far as I can throw ya, but I enjoy the way you lie. 13. AlThank you, my good man. 14. EllsworthYou’re welcome! You conniving, heavy thumbed motherfucker.

16 COHA (Corpus of Historical American English 1810-2009) Honor and a pleasurefirst attested in 1870s Goddamnfirst attested in 1910s Limeyfirst attested in 1910s Motherfuckerfirst attested in 1950s Cocksuckerfirst attested in 1960s Fucked * upfirst attested in 1960s Trust * as far as I canfirst attested in 1950s

17 COHA (Corpus of Historical American English 1810-2009) Some attested taboo words of the period: goldarn darned tarnation gosh

18 ‘Gosh!’ Lena spoke that wicked word boldly. ‘I’m glad this summer’s over! I hate houses.’ (Wilder, By the Shores of Silver Lake, 1939: 130) If characters used the authentic swear words of the time (the mid- 1800s), ‘they would not sound very threatening to modern ears’ (Brenz 2007: 246)

19 ‘The force of the traditional taboos against using religious oaths has generally diminished in modern times with the secularizarion of Western society’ (Hughes 2006: 389) Religious swearing gives way to sexual swearing. Semantic weaking / delexicalisation of previously taboo words. Sexual swearing preserves pragmatic force of archaic terms.


21 104 instances of apologies in the spoken section of the BNC Majority from formal business meetings (standard agenda item often ‘apologies for absence’) Apologies tends to be premodified by a possessive pronoun (my apologies, his apologies) or quantified (a number of apologies, any apologies). When used without premodification or quantification, usually in the context of recording an apology from a third party (apologies were received, Apologies from Anne) Only 6 times in 104 examples is it used in the first-person as a substitute for a direct speech act. While not absent from the corpus, this usage is rare.


23 1. BatiatusAt last the Gods remove cock from fucking ass! The House of Batiatus, no… the House of Quintus Lentulus Batiatus rises to the fucking heavens! Soon my champions will be carved in stone, towering above all who came before. And Gannicus will be the first of them after his victory in the fucking primus. 2. LucretiaThe position was not gained absent aid. 3. GaiaI offered naught but introduction and a few selected words of suggestion. 4. BatiatusYou could wile the Goddess Laverna herself. Your place in this will not pass without much fucking gratitude. [Batiatus begins to make love to Gaia. Titus, Batiatus’s father, enters and is shocked at the scene.] 5. TitusQuintus! 6. BatiatusFather! 7. TitusGather yourself. I would have words. (Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, Episode 4, ‘Paterfamilias’, Starz 2011)

24 [Turn 1]At last the Gods remove cock from fucking ass! (cf. At last the Gods remove their cock[s] from my fucking ass!) [Turn 2]The position was not gained absent aid. (cf. The position was not gained absent some aid. [Turn 3]I offered naught but introduction (cf. I offered naught but an introduction) But compare: [Turn 1]Gannicus will be the first of them [Turn 3]...a few selected words of suggestion Deletion of determiners [Context: A later plot to persuade Titus to leave Capua] BatiatusWe must prove this house in fucking order and prompt decision for his quick return to Sicilia.

25 [Turn 2] absent as a preposition (= without) [Turn 3]naught [Turn 4] wile as a transitive verb [Turn 7] modal would as a catenative verb in an archaic non- conditional sense: would means ‘desire’ Archaisms

26 Does unrealistic dialogue matter? Why do viewers respond negatively to some kinds of unrealistic dialogue but not others? We have to take real readers/viewers seriously.

27 Suspension of disbelief To understand fiction one has to suspend disbelief, and suppose that the events being depicted actually occur. Only through automatic and possibly effortless suspension of disbelief is narrative immersion possible. (Sandford and Emmott 2012: 46)

28 Suspension of disbelief Event-related potentials (ERPs) offer evidence for the use of world knowledge in language processing ‘ERPs reflect electrical activity in the brain, as measured using electroencephalographic (EEG) methods on the scalps of readers’ (Sandford and Emmott 2012: 25)

29 Suspension of disbelief N400: an index of semantic processing ‘Elicited by every content word of an unfolding sentence’ (Niuewland and Van Berkum 2006: 1099) A measurement of the ease with which a word is related to its semantic context (Niuewland and Van Berkum 2006)

30 Suspension of disbelief ‘Words that do not easily fit the animacy requirements imposed by a sentential context elicit a larger N400 than words that do not fit those requirements’ (Niuewland and Van Berkum 2006: 1100) The fact that animacy violations are quickly normalised suggests readers are indeed suspending disbelief and becoming immersed in the fictional world Could anachronistic dialogue cause an N400 effect? Once upon a time, a psychotherapist was consulted in her home office by a yacht/sailor with emotional problems.

31 Deictic shift theory Aims to explain how readers come to feel deeply involved in a fictional world (see Bruder et al. 1995; McIntyre 2006, 2007) ‘[T]he metaphor of the reader getting inside the story is cognitively valid’ (Segal 1995: 14-15) In an idealised reading situation, the reader pushes into a deictic field in the fictional world and the real world deictic field subsequently decays as a result of not being reinstantiated In an non-ideal reading situation, readers are frequently reminded of their real-world deictic field – i.e. full immersion is prevented

32 Deictic shift theory Unrealistic dialogue acts as reminder of the actual world and reinstantiates a reader’s real-world deictic field but......only if the dialogue is not credible for the fictional world

33 Downton Abbey Unrealistic and incredible Deadwood Unrealistic and credible Spartacus Unrealistic and credible

34 Schematic knowledge Schemas are not necessarily developed out of personal experience

35 Schematic knowledge Schemas are not necessarily developed out of personal experience

36 Conclusions Fictional dialogue that is an exact mirror of naturally occurring conversation loses the possibility for the nuances of spoken language to inform characterisation Fictional dialogue can offer a credible illusion of naturally occurring speech Illusion of realism often stems from stylistic choices that make the dialogue appear credible for the fictional world of the characters Unrealistic dialogue is not necessarily a barrier to the creation of a credible fictional world

37 Looking to the future Stylistic analysis necessitates mixed methods and interdisciplinarity Stylistics needs to embrace this fully Practitioners must be conversant with multiple methodologies and analytical frameworks Growth of experimental work (eye-tracking, EEG, etc.) Large-scale collaborative project work (cf. the natural sciences) Don’t forget the text!

38 References Bennison, N. (1998) ‘Accessing character through conversation: Tom Stoppard’s Professional Foul’, in Culpeper, J., Short, M. and Verdonk, P. (eds) Exploring the Language of Drama: From Text to Context, pp. 67-82. London: Routledge. Biber, D., Johansson, S., Leech, G., Conrad, S. and Finegan, E. (1999) Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English. London: Longman. Brenz, B. (2007) ‘Deadwood and the English language’, Great Plains Quarterly 27 (Fall): 239-51. Deadwood. (US) (2004-06) HB0. Writer: David Milch. Directors: Various. Downton Abbey. (UK) (2010 - present) ITV. Writer: Julian Fellowes. Directors: Various. Feeney, M. (2004) ‘Talk pretty: the linguistic brilliance of HBO’s Deadwood. Slate: Accessed 29 June 2014. Herman, V. (1995) Dramatic Discourse. London: Routledge. Hughes, G. (2006) An Encyclopedia of Swearing: The Social History of Oaths, Profanity, Foul Language, and Ethnic Slurs in the English-Speaking World. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe. Leech, G. (2000) ‘Grammars of spoken English: new outcomes of corpus-oriented research’, Language Learning 50(4): 675-724. McIntyre, D. (2006) Point of View in Plays: A Cognitive Stylistic Approach to Viewpoint in Drama and Other Text-types. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. McIntyre, D. (2007) ‘Deixis, cognition and the construction of viewpoint’, in Lambrou, M. and Stockwell, P. (eds) Contemporary Stylistics, pp. 118-30. London: Continuum. Nieuwland, M. S. and Van Berkum, J. J. A. (2006) ‘When peanuts fall in love: N400 evidence for the power of discourse’, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 18(7): 1098-1111. Pinter, H. (1971) Old Times. London: Faber and Faber. Pride and Prejudice (UK) (2005) Studio Canal / Working Title. Writer: Deborah Moggach. Director: Joe Wright. Richardson, K. (2010) Television Dramatic Dialogue: A Sociolinguistic Study. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Ryan, M-L (1980) ‘Fiction, non-factuals and the principle of minimal departure’, Poetics 9: 403-22. Sanford, A. J. and Emmott, C. (2012) Mind, Brain and Narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Schmidt, B. (2012) ‘Making Downton more traditional’, Blogpost: traditional.html. Accessed 29 June 2014. Segal, E. M. (1995) Narrative comprehension and the role of deictic shift theory’, in Duchan, J. F., Bruder, G. A. and Hewitt, L. E. (eds) Deixis in Narrative: A Cognitive Science Perspective, pp. 61-78. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Spartacus: Gods of the Arena. (US) (2011) Starz. Writers: Various. Directors: Various. Wilder, L. I. (1939) By the Shores of Silver Lake. New York, NY: Harper and Brothers.

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